AP shareholders’ suit: Dangote challenges contempt order


July 26, 2010


A business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, has filed an application before a Federal High Court in Lagos, asking it to stay execution on a bench warrant issued against him for failure to appear before it in contempt proceedings by some aggrieved shareholders of the African Petroleum Plc.


Dangote is also asking Justice James Tsoho to stay proceedings in the contempt proceedings involving him, the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Prof. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, and the Secretary to the Council of the NSE, Mrs. Josephine Igbinosun, pending the determination of his appeal against the ruling of the lower court at the Court of Appeal in Lagos.


The businessman is further asking the judge to stay proceedings in the matter to avoid rendering the judgment of the appellate court nugatory.According to Dangote, there is the need for the court to preserve the res (the subject matter) and avoid a situation where a fait accompli will be foisted on the appellate court.


The shareholders had filed contempt proceedings against Dangote, Okereke-Onyiuke and the Igbinosun, claiming that in spite of a valid restraining court order, Dangote had continued to parade himself as the NSE president.When the matter came up on Thursday, July 22, 2010, Dangote and Okereke-Onyiuke did not appear in court while Igbinosun attended the court session.


But the judge had in his ruling held that the integrity of the court was being challenged, saying that he would first address the issue of contempt before jurisdiction.The judge, who delivered his ruling by 5.05pm after standing down the case for over five hours and postponing it for several times, said, “Contempt proceedings are criminal in nature, the contemnors are expected to appear in person in court. This court hereby issues a bench warrant for the arrest of Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Prof. Ndidi Okereke-Onyiuke.


“As regard the third respondent (Igbinosun) who is in court, she is hereby admitted to bail in the sum of N1m. She must also sign a bail bond before leaving the court.”Justice Tsoho later signed the bench warrant to compel the police to ensure the appearance of Dangote and Okereke- Onyiuke, before him on Tuesday.


It was, however, gathered that the judge later signed the bench warrant very late on Thursday just as the court’s bailiffs were said to have dispatched the document on Friday, July 23, 2010.Dissatisfied with the lower court’s verdict, Dangote had through his lawyer, Mr. Rickey Tarfa (SAN), filed a Notice of Appeal dated July 23, 2010 before the Court of Appeal in Lagos, asking it to set aside the said ruling of Justice Tsoho.


Tarfa had anchored his client’s appeal on nine grounds and urged the appellate court to direct the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Dan Abutu, to transfer the suit from Justice Tsoho to another judge.The senior advocate had in one of the grounds of appeal, claimed that the trial judge erred in law and misdirected himself when he ordered that the challenge to jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit would await a determination of the contempt proceedings, saying that the development had occasioned a miscarriage of justice.


Tarfa also faulted the ruling of the trial judge on Supreme Court’s decision on priority of application, saying that the apex court did not decide that challenge to jurisdiction on the substance of the case will not enjoy priority over contempt.He further alleged that the contempt proceedings did not follow due process on the grounds that Form 48 was not issued and served, adding that there was no attempt at personal service, hence the contempt proceedings were a nullity.


Fourteen AP shareholders had on July 29, 2009, filed the originating summons on behalf of the AP against 14 defendants and alleged massive manipulation of the AP shares.The plaintiffs had named Mr. Femi Otedola, Mr. Tunde Dalasinnu, Mr. Osa Osunde, Dangote and 10 others as co-defendants to the suit.


A fierce legal battle on which application should take precedence between jurisdiction and contempt will, however, take place on Tuesday as Justice Tosho begins further hearing on the matter.Lawyers to the parties are expected to come to court with assorted law books with decided cases to convince the court on the merits of their applications.


Source: Punch




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